Monday, June 1, 1998

Week of 06/01/1998

Apocalypse Soon?
Will India and Pakistan do the unthinkable?
- by David Matthews 2

In 1962, the world waited with baited breath over the Atlantic Ocean around the island of Cuba. There, at the height of the Cold War, two sides were preparing for global thermonuclear conflict over the nuclear armament of Cuba by the Soviet Union.

Few people outside of Washington knew just how close we were to World War Three.

One of those people who did know, however, was a sailor by the name of David Matthews - my father. My father served on board the USS Joseph Kennedy, a destroyer named after the late older brother of then President John Kennedy. By fate, or perhaps by a strange twist of irony, it was the Kennedy that was positioned at point of the US blockade of Cuba, and it was the Kennedy that boarded the Soviet transports that approached the blockade.

On the onset, my father, and the other shipmates were informed of the seriousness of the situation. If the Soviet ships challenged the blockade, they were ordered to sink those vessels with any and all means possible, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons. They were well aware that doing so would mean certain death, as well as global annihilation.

Truly, the fate of the world rested not between the leaders of two countries, but rather between ship captains who decided whether or not to risk war over ideology.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. War was averted. The Kennedy has been decommissioned and is now berthed at Cape Cod for the public to tour.

I remember my nightmares concerning a possible nuclear holocaust. Between seeing apocalyptic movies like "Testament" and "The Day After" and hearing my father’s accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was pretty scared. One night, I awoke at two in the morning to the sound of the Emergency Broadcast System alarm on the radio. No announcement of a test. Just the tone, and a long pause before finally hearing a commercial. I don’t remember getting too much sleep after that.

It’s believed that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear destruction would be limited to one or two nuclear bombs brought in by terrorists. After all, only a handful of nations had the bomb.

Until now.

Now, the nuclear club has expanded by two. India, which tested their first nuclear bombs twenty-five years ago, recently restarted their testing and began arming conventional weapons with nuclear warheads. Their rival and neighbor, Pakistan, soon followed with their first test detonations.

Let’s be brutally honest here - I’m nervous as hell that these two countries now have the bomb! Not because they pose a direct threat to the United States, mind you, but rather because of the threat to the world.

Unlike the US and Russia, the conflict between India and Pakistan has been one of religious differences and religious zealotry. India is predominantly Hindu, while the majority of Pakistanis are Muslim. Because of this, the two nations are as abrasive towards each other as can be.

A country that has a nuclear bomb is much like a punk kid on the streets with a new gun. Look at the attitudes of the citizens of both India and Pakistan when their respective leaders initiated the tests. It’s simply an artificial pair of testicles that they want to show off to the world. World leaders think having it demands respect. It doesn’t. It simply means you can be a global thug if that is your choice.

America, for all her bluster and good intentions, is known around the world for one piece of uncontested infamy - it’s the only country in the world that detonated two nuclear bombs on civilians. Those bombs changed the face of the world and they revealed a new kind of horror to humanity. Where it took weeks of coordinated air strikes to level a city in Europe, it took only one bomb to level Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Where the horrors of destruction were once only limited to brief property damage, the radioactive fallout of nuclear bombs are present even today, fifty years after the first test detonation at Trinity.

The threat of nuclear holocaust keeps the civilized man at bay, but not those in the hands of those swept in a wave of religious fervor. That’s the real reason why there has been a concerted effort to limit the countries that have that kind of destructive power. It is destructive, and the effects of that destructive power are not limited to the immediate area.

Consider, if you will, the result of a brief but limited exchange between India and Pakistan involving short-range nuclear weapons. The devastation of each of those bombs will send clouds of radioactive fallout that would orbit the planet through the winds. Immediate neighboring countries would be affected the hardest, but the radiation would eventually reach everyone. The thousands of survivors suffering from radioactive sickness, burns, and secondary injuries incurred by the blast wave would tax global aid, not to mention they would need a place to stay. They certainly can’t go home now that what’s left of home glows in the dark.

Then there is another threat - that other countries will get the bomb from the newest members of our little nuclear club. Remember, Pakistan is predominantly Islamic and a neighbor to Iran. Although Iran has been showing signs of moderation again, it is still very much a theocracy with a very rabid contingent eager to strike against the "Great Satan" called the United States of America. If Pakistan doesn’t plan on using their nuclear weapons on India, they might be convinced to "loan" some of them out to a country who will them on.. say.. Israel.

Fortunately, there is the hope that both India and Pakistan, once displaying their newfound artificial testicles to the world, will realize the utter stupidity of their actions and sign the International treaties that would curtail future nuclear development. But equally important more than ever will be the need to prevent those weapons from getting into more dangerous hands. India and Pakistan will hopefully soon learn that having such firepower is more of a burden instead of an achievement.

I would hope sanity will prevail over nationalistic and religious antagonists eager to appease their artificially-enhanced egos at the agonizing deaths of thousands.

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